Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ten Steps to Writing Great Book Reviews

You read the book and loved it. Chances are you'll tell a friend about it, especially if she likes the same genre. You may go so far as to mention it to a few of your friends or post it on Facebook and Twitter. We authors thank you. But could we ask you to go another mile toward promoting worthy Christian fiction? Would you be willing to take some time to write a book review and post it on various book-centric sites such as Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Kobo.com, Goodreads.com, Sony, and other such sites? In most cases, you need only write one review, copy, and paste.

Below are ten steps to writing book reviews that will win you favor with customers of bookseller sites. I certainly appreciate a well-written book review. Don't you?

  1. Give the book a careful reading. Don't rush through it. If you know you'll likely write a review when you finish, take notes (including page numbers for quick reference) along the journey. Highlight quotations and stylistic snippets--colorful phrases, idioms, creative similes and metaphors, for example. Name the author and the book's name in the first paragraph, if possible.
  2. Determine your purpose in writing the review. While you don't have to explicitly state it, you need to keep it in mind as you write. Complete this sentence: I want the readers of this review to _____.
  3. Identify the author's overarching theme: Examples--
    • When one forgives the most egregious of wrongs, then the heart is free to heal.
    • Marriage and family are worth fighting for to preserve.
    • Prodigals can still return home and be restored and reconciled.
    • Those who commit evil deeds in the dark will be revealed in the light.
  4. Explain what drew you to the book. Had you read other works by the author? Is it a favorite genre? Did you hear about it on a social site, or did a friend recommend it?
  5. What does the author do especially well? (Note: always write about literature in the present tense.) Examples--
    •  Characterization--Who are the main characters? Does the writer develop realistic, believable, multidimensional characters? What are their goals? What gets in the way of their achieving those goals? How far were you into the book before you cared about the protagonist? Is s/he likable?
    • Story development--Were you captivated by the story by the end of the first page or the first chapter? What hooked you? Does the author employ an unusual plot structure? Is the pacing appropriate for the story?
    • Details of setting--Did you feel that you were in the place and time of the story?
    • Evidence of thorough knowledge and/or research on the part of the author--Does the author accurately portray the time period, circumstances, environment, etc.?
    • Writing style--Do you especially like the author's imagery, diction, artistic elements, or writing style? Be specific.
  6. If possible, incorporate some quotations that exemplify the points you've cited in Number 5 above.
  7. What weaknesses in style, structure, or content did you notice? Be gentle, remembering that what you perceive as a weakness others may consider a strength. Follow the Bible's directive to "tell the truth in love."
  8. Give your readers a taste of the plot, but DO NOT INCLUDE SPOILERS! Hint at the climax, but DO NOT GIVE AWAY THE ENDING!
  9. Tell a little about the author. What makes her life unique? List some of his other works and awards. Include some interesting tidbits, if you know them.
  10. Describe how the book affected you emotionally. Did it live up to your expectations of the genre? Do you want to read more by this author? To what audiences would you recommend this book? 
Note: If the book was provided to you by the publisher or the author, make that known. Be sure to read "The FTC's Regulating My Book Reviews!" by Kathryn Page Camp on Hoosier Ink blog, Thursday, 23 September 2010.

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Recently, Rose McCauley wrote a review of a book by one of my favorite contemporary authors, Dan Walsh. She graciously granted me permission to use that review to illustrate a well-executed book review. Thank you, Rose!

Book Review of The Dance by Dan Walsh and Gary Smalley

I have read and enjoyed several of Gary Smalley's books, both fiction and non-fiction, and all of Dan Walsh's books with great admiration, so looked forward to reading The Dance. 1. I wasn't disappointed!  2. Although this was a review copy given by the publisher, that in no way affected my review. 3.
I love books like this that teach spiritual truths through story, similar to Jesus's parables. We start with a couple who seem to be very successful in life, but not in love/marriage/relationships. I've known guys like Jim Anderson  4. who have no clue how unhappy their wife is until it is too late. And even when she tries to explain, he doesn't understand what she is saying. They aren't speaking the same love language! 5. 6. 7.

Things look pretty dire for this couple until Jim meets a little old lady who used to run a dance studio. By following her dance lessons (something he has always refused to take!) he begins to learn the lessons of love he had forgotten and some he had never known. But it will still take a miracle to unharden his wife's heart after all the years of pain. As we know, God is a God of miracles! What better place for this miracle to begin to take place than at a wedding, where Christ's first miracle began His ministry on earth? 8.

Like all of Dan Walsh's books and the books Gary Smalley co-authored with Karen Kingsbury, while reading this story you will laugh awhile and cry awhile and come away better for it! 9. And the great thing is it's the first of a series of books (The Restoration Series) written by this team!10.

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Notice that not everything I included in the ten steps is included in Rose's review, but she covered most of them, and very succinctly, at that.
  1. She named the co-authors and the book in the first paragraph.
  2. She gives us her opinion of the work.
  3. She slips in the fact that she read the publisher-supplied ARC.
  4. In this second paragraph, she names the main character.
  5. She reveals the main problem or conflict of the story.
  6. She hints at the solution.
  7. She tells what is getting in the way of solving the problem.
  8. She reveals just enough of the climax to tantalize us--well, me, anyway. :-)
  9. She gives more info about her emotions during the reading of The Dance.
  10. She announce the forthcoming series.

    Rose, you definitely whetted my appetite to read The Dance. Thanks, again!

    Now, gentle reader, it's your turn to write a sterling review about the book you just finished.

    Write on!
    Because of Christ,


  1. Great post on reviewing, Sharon. I wish a lot more people could read this and understand how important a review is. Thanks!

    Also peeked down at some of your other posts. :)

  2. Hello, Caroline! I'm so sorry to delay in responding to your comment. I received no notification that you'd commented. Thanks!

    I don't think most people realize how important and helpful well-crafted reviews are--not only to us as writers but also to other readers. I look at reviews for books I'm thinking of buying, especially if I don't know the author.

    Write on!
    Because of Christ

  3. Hi Sharon, thanks again for your kind words about my book review of Dan Walsh's book The Dance. I usually think about how to review the story without giving away too much while I am reading it, because I don't like to know everything that is going to happen before I read it! Also sorry it took me so long to respond. The email you sent it to is one I rarely use, and I just saw it tonight. Happy reading and reviewing!

    1. Rose,

      I appreciate your giving me permission to use your review as an example of a well-crafted one.

      Though I am an avid reader, I'm taking a little time off to complete a requested revision of my second MG novel. (I'm still wandering around on Unagented Island, so you know what that entails.)

      Write on!
      Because of Christ,